Chinese papers

20 Nov 2019


IT’S there in black and white, 403 pages of a chilling prescription to erase the identity and ‘reprogramme’ the thinking of Chinese Muslim minorities — a dystopian ‘1984’ playing out in real life. Even more unfortunate, it now seems clear the strategy emanates from the very pinnacle of the Chinese government. A trove of internal documents from within the secretive Communist Party of China shared with the New York Times by an anonymous whistleblower has thrown a spotlight on the thought process that underlies the brutal repression of Muslim ethnic minorities, mainly Uighurs, and their mass detentions in ‘re-education camps’. They reveal a government that conflates extremists with peaceful, observant Muslims in China — religious persecution in its purest form. Among the pages are texts of secret speeches allegedly by President Xi Jinping laying out the security offensive against extremism in Xinjiang province. In one of them, “a period of painful, interventionary treatment” for those “infected” by “extremism” is advocated; in another to “…show absolutely no mercy”. The leaked documents also contain a guide for officials to use when dealing with queries from anxious Uighur youth when they find their family members missing: their relatives, the officials are instructed to say, were “infected” by the “virus” of Islamist radicalism for which they were required to be quarantined and cured. Moreover, Uighurs unwilling to accept the ‘official’ version of the situation should be cautioned their behaviour could prolong the detention of their family member/s.

For some time, accounts have been appearing in the Western media of a Uighur community under siege, and the detention camps in which as many as a million of them may be incarcerated. The stories have often been downplayed or dismissed as propaganda, usually by countries with high stakes in the world’s second-largest economy. China has denounced the exposé as an attempt to discredit its efforts against extremism which it has portrayed as a resounding success in Xinjiang — presumably as a result of a policy that is indeed entirely lacking in mercy. Significantly, however, it has not disputed the documents’ veracity. That makes it much more difficult to affect ignorance about the atrocities being inflicted on the Chinese Muslims. Like many other countries, Pakistan too has a spotty human rights record, but when it can speak out against the human rights violations of the Kashmiris and the Rohingya, can it stay silent about the Uighurs?

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2019